• Both players are European Ryder Cup heroes who joined the LIV Tour earlier this year and have been critical of Pelley’s strategy to fight the arrival of the Saudi Arabian-funded breakaway circuit.
• “What they are doing is a shame because the European Tour is going to become the fifth [best] in the world,” said the Spaniard who is Europe’s record points scorer in the Ryder Cup.
DP World Tour boss Keith Pelley has rejected claims by Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia that his organisation is now nothing more than a feeder circuit destined to be only golf’s fifth best tour.
Both players are European Ryder Cup heroes who joined the LIV Tour earlier this year and have been critical of Pelley’s strategy to fight the arrival of the Saudi Arabian-funded breakaway circuit.
At a news conference before the BMW PGA Championship which starts on Thursday at Wentworth, Pelley came out fighting and launched a staunch defence of his organisation.
In July this year, Garcia threatened to resign from the DP World Tour but remains a member and is among 17 LIV players competing on the West Course this week.
“What they are doing is a shame because the European Tour is going to become the fifth [best] in the world,” said the Spaniard who is Europe’s record points scorer in the Ryder Cup.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Pelley. “Let’s look at the facts. If the metric determining the top tours in the world is just money, then the number one tour is the PGA Tour, always has been. You could argue that the LIV Invitational Series is number two.
“But The Asian Tour, $22.5m; Korn Ferry, $20m; Japan, $28m; Australia, $5.8m; Sunshine Tour, $7.4m. Totalling all their prize funds together comes to just half of our tour. So even if the only metric is money, how possibly could we ever become number five.”
As part of the DP World Tour’s strategic alliance with their American counterparts, struck to fight off the LIV threat, 10 players will graduate to full status on the PGA Tour.
Westwood claimed this makes the European tour a “feeder” for what used to be a rival circuit. “I’ll ask you: Is this week a tournament that is on a feeder tour?” Pelley said. “A tournament that has sold-out crowds, television coverage around the world in 150 countries, five of the Top 15 players in the world? A tournament with 150 accredited media?
“Our first co-sanctioned event with the PGA Tour in Scotland, where 14 of the top 15 players (in the world) played, would that appear on a feeder tour? I could go on and on.”
Citing next week’s Italian Open which includes Rory McIlroy and US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick in its field, Pelley added: “Can we please just stop the feeder tour nonsense once and for all.”
The tour boss also addressed claims that while in Malta last year he turned down the chance to do a $1bn (£875m) deal with the Saudi Arabian project, insisting no such offer was received.
“I know that many people still quote the Malta meeting and the supposed $1bn offer that was made to us by Golf Saudi,” he said.
“There’s only one word to describe that claim, and that is fictitious. I genuinely do not know how many times I can make this point.
“And you can ask any member of our board of directors, and they will unanimously confirm that it was not an offer, it was not a deal. It was merely a marketing presentation put together on behalf of Golf Saudi.
“When it was reviewed at our board of directors on 7 September, 2021, it was dismissed. I’d love to share the actual document with you but we have no intention of sharing a document that isn’t ours to share.
“In many ways, I wish I could because it would put to bed all this speculation once and for all.”
Pelley insists his tour is “healthy and prosperous” with prize funds guaranteed to grow from more than $140m for the next five years, with an option to extend their relationship with the PGA Tour for a further eight years.
But he also acknowledged that these are unprecedentedly “divisive” times in golf.
“LIV Golf and the PGA Tour are involved in a power struggle for our sport,” he said.
“It is corporate America versus a sovereign state and a conflict fought out with eye-watering sums of money. Money on both sides in markets that we play in it is not possible to generate.
“I often get the question, why can’t we work with both the PGA Tour and the Saudis. We tried. But the Saudis remain determined to set up a new series outside of the current ecosystem. That decision has created the conflict we see today and we chose to partner with the leading tour in the game.
“Some people might not agree with that decision. But it’s a decision we feel is the right thing to do for all our members.”